A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Name: Charlie C. W. Mates

Birth date: 13.11.1929
Birth Place: Bethnal Green London
Date of Death : 
Place of Death : 
Nationality: English
Gender: Male

If there's one thing that you can count on in the racing world it's finding remarkable characters like Charlie Mates, or CCM to his contemporaries. If he'll forgive me for mentioning the fact that he's in his eighties now, the years don't appear to have slowed him down a jot. There's a Honda Dream 50ccR in his workshop along with a 125cc Honda and a Kreidler 50cc GP racer and during his retirement from competitive racing, he's learnt to ride horses, fly aircraft, play golf, learn calligraphy and get his pilots licence for microlites and autogyros. And despite all this, he still finds time to take part in regular classic parades and other demonstration meetings.  Picture: Charlie on the CR110 Replica.

Asked how he would describe himself he quickly replied, "Just a man who loves racing fifties" A somewhat modest answer, as his career includes regular top three Leader-Board places at all the main circuits in the 1960s and a fourth place in the 1965 TT behind the works Honda of Luigi Taveri and the works Suzuki's of Hugh Anderson and Ernst Degner

 Charlie's start in motorcycling was perhaps a little different than most; as a child he didn't enjoy the best of health, suffering very badly from asthma. Even as a teenager he was poorly and underweight and eventually a doctor advised 'plenty of fresh air' and what better way of getting that than on-board a motorcycle? Charlie recalled, "My father bought me a 250cc Zenith with a JAP engine out of his Army discharge gratuity; but it was a box job and so my uncle helped to rebuild it for me. But my health didn't improve sufficiently enough for the Army to accept me when I was called up and I was excused duty on medical grounds".  

His mates ending up buying motorcycles and were always talking about racing them, but never seemed to actually get round to it; this irritated Charlie and he decided that "Talk was cheap, it's action that counts!" Spurred on by his childhood health problems and rejection by the Army, he took the plunge with an Ariel Red Hunter; this once poorly lad from Bethnal Green would soon show them a thing or two.

Difficult beginnings, then, but he fought his way up to became a familiar sight in the 50cc class on board his Maserati, ITOM and later switching to the Honda CR110 as the Japanese technology proved too competitive for the slower ITOMs. Charlie used to ride his Hartley tuned Ariel to the circuits when he began racing in 1954 at Brands, it was the only way to do it back then, there was no money even for a trailer, let alone a car or van. 

A 250cc Rudge Special followed the Ariel, then a 250cc NSU SportMax bought in 1956, gave him four years of good racing. The money had improved a little by now and so a Norton Model 30 outfit was used as transport the between circuits. There was, however, one problem that Charlie was having trouble overcoming and that was a difficulty in getting a quick start due to his light weight. "I weighed in at eight stone seven pounds and that was soaking wet" he smiled. "I always lost out because I couldn't get a good bump start, I just couldn't match the heavier riders."

He realised that something had to be done soon if he wanted to continue to race at a competitive level, so he tried out a 50cc Maserati at Brands Hatch and Crystal Palace, where they proved to be "Useful little bikes, I managed to finish 'in the frame' I didn't win then, but I think it was third". 

Now Fred Hardy, a close friend of Charlie's at the time, said that he looked good on the smaller machines and should stick with them, so he took an offer of an ITOM from Dick Chalaye at Tooleys, the importers, raced it at Brands and came second to Howard German riding on Frank Sheene's ITOM.  

It suited me down to the ground," said Charlie, "I actually started to win on these bikes, I had the attitude that I wasn't going to shut off, otherwise you'd loose power, so I kept them flat out." He soon established himself as one of the major players in the fifties class and apart from his own bikes , he also rode the Sheene ITOM, (Frank Sheene Special). Picture: The Frank Sheene Special

His first win was at Brands Hatch in May & August 1961.

Charlie also raced against the expanding group of female riders that wanted to become involved with the "Mighty 50" Including Beryl Swain, Ceri Dundas-Slater, Pauline Dale, to name a few. During 1961 Charlie was also able to enter a Honda CB92 125cc twin in the Silverstone Hutchinson 100, run in April of that year.

During 1962 Charlie rode the ITOM at many meetings including Oulton Park and Cadwell Park with his favourite track being Brands Hatch in Kent.  Here are some of the results and pictures from that period up to the time he changed mounts in favour of the HONDA CR110. (Pages to follow as the re-write progresses)

Strong friendships were often made with fellow competitors and Charlie remembers first meeting Dave and Michael Simmonds after a race at Crystal Palace. "Dave asked me what prize money was to be had, we got talking and we all became close friends, despite being rivals."

Charlie's first TT was in 1962, gaining sixteenth place, riding against Dave Simmonds on a Tohatsu and Howard German on the Sheene ITOM. A short spell with a Suzuki proved unfortunate for Charlie as it seized at Brands and dumped him off the bike, "The mechanics found a cracked piston and a circlip had also sprung out of place in the gearbox, which caused me to engage two gears, that's what slung me off." They took the bike away and that's the last Charlie heard from them.

Dave and Mike Simmonds on the WCS 50

Charlie on his 50cc ITOM

Letter from SUZUKI

Charlie Mates - The Early (Itom) Days

But soon afterwards Charlie purchased a Honda CR110 which Charlie describes as "A beautiful machine, a genuine racer, I started winning again." This encouraged him no end and he was able to notch up several wins and second and third placings on the bike. "I was an aggressive rider, I was out to win, same as the others, it's the name of the game. Once that flag goes down it's each man for himself." "If your on my line move over". 

All the time he rode the ITOM, he was able to service and repair the bikes himself, but this changed when he started racing the dohc Honda CR110 in 1963 as the engines were far more complex and needed regular professional care to keep them at their best; Steve Lancefield agreed to keep them serviced and in racing trim. He raced the Honda at all the National circuits and then ventured to Ireland and the Continent, including Imatra , Hockenheim and the Nürburgring. 

His main rivals in the National 50cc Class at the time were Ian Plumridge, Jim Pink, Phil Horsham and George Ashton, all on CR110s and Dave Simmonds on the Tohatsu. Charlie recalled that "I still hold the 50cc lap record at Scarborough , that was a tough race as all the best competition was there, it was no walkover."

Although his fourth place in the 1965 TT was a best ever and despite being the first privateer home behind the works machines, he was just outside of the Replica time and so missed out on that particular award. Read an article from the Motor Cyclist Illustrated about the race.

A close call that one, like the time he lost to Bill Ivy at Brands. "We'd been at it hammer and tongs for the whole race, I got past him on the last lap and was leading him down Clearways. He pulled out at the last moment and beat me by half a wheel." Still, if you're going to loose to anyone, you couldn't do much better than Bill Ivy, especially at Brands". During this year Charlie also came 2nd in the ACU ROAD RACING STAR 50cc Championship.

Charlie entered the 50cc and 125cc classes in the 1966 TT, on a Honda and a Tohatsu respectively, but failed to finish in both, likewise in the 1969 Lightweight 125cc class on a Kawasaki. He did better in the production class that same year with a ninth position on a Yamaha. He also continued to race at the usual circuits including Cadwell Park on both the HONDA and Tohatsu. This is a list of the 50cc Wins and Places from 1960 to 1966.

In 1976 Charlie sold his bikes and moved with his wife Irene to Canada, looking for better opportunities, but it didn't work out and they returned home to start again. Jim Pink stepped in and kindly offered him a 125cc Yamaha and encouraged him to race once more. The Tohatsu in the Isle of Man TT 1965 He took up the challenge again but found things weren't quite the same and after failing to finish in the 1970 Lightweight 125cc TT, he decided to call it a day. This is a list of his TT results from 1960 until 1970 .

But fast forward now to 1996, when Charlie had a telephone call from his old colleague Ian Plumridge. He introduced Charlie to John Loxley who offered him a ride in the TT Classic Parade on a 125cc Honda twin, which he accepted and has entered several parades since then, including the TTRA Lap of Honour 2000, although he remarked "they're called parades but it's still every man for himself!"

He rides his Honda Dream 50R and his other bikes whenever to opportunity arrives and he plans to keep on with the parades for as long as he can. He confirmed that "The same buzz is there with the Dream as it was with the CR110, it's not a toy." Classic Parades Charlie Mates has come a long way from those early days at Bethnal Green; maintaining his self belief and determination through difficult times to make a successful racing career for himself as the "man who loves racing fifties" Here are his memories to share with you. Don't forget he hasn't finished with the track yet!

 Charlie was interviewed by the "Biker" magazine in Hertfordshire.

Charlie in the Biker magazine
A Hertfordshire Ledged and Hero
Charlie in the Biker.pdf (8.97MB)
Charlie in the Biker magazine
A Hertfordshire Ledged and Hero
Charlie in the Biker.pdf (8.97MB)

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